Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Big Game

Homecoming weekend at William and Mary started out all wet. On Saturday morning, the Homecoming Parade was cancelled due to rain, much to our disappointment (we love a cheesy parade, plus the Pep Band was going to march). But thankfully, the skies cleared in time for the big football game against undefeated U. Mass. Passes were thrown, tackles were made, points were scored, yadda yadda, we lost. It was pretty exciting, though...high scoring, and we did much better than we were supposed to, scoring 34 points against a supposedly top-ranked team. They scored 48, but whatever.

Okay, who really cares about that? I was just there to see the Pep Band anyway. I was shocked, disheartened, dismayed and downright irritated that the band didn’t have the opportunity to do their traditional half-time scramble show. Instead, there was a lame non-show of introducing important people, presenting the homecoming court (Homecoming court? Are you kidding me? In 2007??) and taking photos, and that was it. There’s 20 minutes of my life wasted. This is what we missed seeing. The scramble show doesn’t involve precision marching or playing while marching. It involves the much less challenging running randomly all over the field, then getting in position, and playing while standing still. All the fun of a marching band, with a fraction of the rehearsal time. I’m not sure what all the formations are, but I know there’s a martini glass, the letter F, a clock, and the initials WM in there. Ending with, of course, the alma mater. Because at William and Mary, you just can’t have too much alma mater.

Here’s an interesting sidebar. When I was at W&M, we were the Indians, complete with goofily grinning Indian mascot. Political correctness axed the Indians and the mascot, and the team name was replaced with “The Tribe” and a logo that incorporated the tasteful use of feathers (see above). Last year, the NCAA ruled that the name “Tribe” was not offensive, but the use of the feathers was, and they would have to go. The Florida State Seminole logo of an angry Indian in war paint is okay, but our two feathers are offensive. I guess that’s just one of the perks of having a big-time, big money football program...the NCAA lets you do what you want. Of course, this enrages the W&M fans. Every scrap, every stitch of university-sponsored athletic sportswear has had to remove those two feathers (new logo to come, not yet ready). But in a wonderful show of Tribe Pride, folks show up to the games in all of their old feathered gear, wearing feathers in their hair. At the game, some group (I don’t know who) went through the stands with huge bags filled with green and gold feathers, and gave them out to everyone in the crowd. The place was silly with feathers. I enjoyed that part immensely.

Here's how we thumb our noses at the NCAA:

Here's the Pep Band playing for the arrival of the team. The arrow's pointing to my son.

This guy runs around the field with this giant flag everytime we score. He did it a lot.

This guy was wearing a green and gold kilt, which gave him a Braveheart look:

And here are the cheerleaders. There are 2 complete sets of cheerleaders, so they can cover both sides of the field at once. I appreciate that.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

W&M Weekend

This weekend we headed to Williamsburg for a little getaway, which happened to coincide with William & Mary’s homecoming. Although I’m an alum, we weren’t there to re-une with anyone, we just wanted to see our son play in the Wind Symphony and pep band (which also means catching a football game). So we headed down right after work on Friday, and got there just in time to go to the Wind Symphony concert. I think the term “wind symphony” sounds very elegant and classical and sophisticated. This weekend I discovered that it’s just a synonym for concert band, except that "concert band" sounds high schoolish, and "wind symphony" sounds college-y. While we were there, we also caught a few other performances, including a men’s a capella group, a women’s a capella group, and the William and Mary Choir (the big guns).

I've mentioned my opinion about unwarranted standing ovations before, and I was wondering how that would be handled at these college performances. Very cleverly, it turns out. Most W&M groups end their concerts with the Alma Mater, during which students and alumni are all supposed to stand. And of course everyone else in the audience, not wanting to feel left out, stands too (kind of like the National Anthem). Which leaves the whole room standing, and then clapping, at the end of the performance. Tricky, no?

A word about the William and Mary alma mater. In the four years in the mid-1970’s that I was at the school, I don’t remember ever singing the alma mater. I may not have even heard it played...if I did, I don’t remember. I certainly couldn’t have told you the words or hummed a few bars (my husband has the same recollection of the Duke alma mater, which is essentially none). Back in those days, we were all a bit anti-establishment, and college spirit seemed pretty low. Nowadays, things have certainly turned around, the college seems to be oozing with “Tribe Pride,” and they seem to play the alma mater at the drop of a hat. For the first two years that I visited the college as the parent of a student, I heard it many times, but could never remember much more than the line “hark upon the gale.” Please don’t ask me what that means. But this weekend, I sang it four times. So now I at least have the chorus (which is decidedly catchy) memorized. Listen to a snippet of it here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

World Market

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have the shopping gene. There are a lot of people (women mostly) who quite happily shop recreationally and therapeutically, for whom the hunt for cool stuff is like a game, and who get an emotional lift out of buying new things. I’m the opposite—shopping is a struggle, I never find what I’m looking for, and if I do, I usually talk myself out of it. Oh, I spend plenty of money on entertainment, food, little trips here and there—just rarely on stuff that has to come home with me and stay there (I like stuff that can get used up). On the other hand, I am in love, love, love with creative store merchandising. You know, the artful displays in upscale stores that make everything look so great. I’m drawn to the colors, the textures, the patterns, and love when stores turn their displays into picture-perfect still lifes, or display rows of the same item in many colors. Oh, I’m never tempted to buy, because I know if you choose one little item to buy, once you get it home and it’s no longer sitting in its perfect arrangement of related items, it loses its magic. At least for me, it does.

I love to go into places like Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel just to look at the displays. I rarely buy anything at Chico’s, but I love the way they arrange the clothing according to color, and I love to finger the fabrics. In Fredericksburg, Whittingham’s on Caroline Street is the cream of the merchandising crop, with amazing theme windows that change every month. And my new favorite is World Market, which has been open in the Cosner’s Corner shopping center for about a year. It’s kind of like Pier One meets Ikea’s Marketplace: furniture, housewares, rugs and pillows, gourmet food, wine, bath items, jewelry, baskets...just aisles and aisles of cool things to look at and not buy. I never get tired of stopping there for a quick look at the latest stuff, and they give free samples of coffee, too.

I love candle displays, but face it: you will never, ever use up all of the decorative candles you already own.

I love to look at these wooden bowls and plates. The colors are so vibrant. But you know when you get that one red bowl home, you're going to wonder what the hell you were thinking.

My dishes are white. I love to look at this colored dishware, but I don't think I could ever commit to it.

Here's one thing I can't resist: unusual pastas.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pumpkin Festival

Last week, I was watching the Weather Channel in the morning, and heard Nicole Mitchell mention the Keene, NH Pumpkin Festival. I have a niece who lives in Keene, so I had heard about the Pumpkin Festival before from family members. But until Nicole talked about it on national television, I had no idea how big it really was. I guess I was imagining carved pumpkins by the hundreds, maybe a few thousand, but not the tens of thousands. At Keene’s first festival in 1991, they had 600 pumpkins, and by 2003, they set their 8th world record for the most lit jack o’lanterns at one time with 28,952 pumpkins. I can’t even imagine what that looks like. It must be awesome. The photo above shows just a tiny fraction of Keene pumpkins. Clearly, when you’re talking pumpkin festivals, you’re talking Keene.

So I was pretty excited when I read that there would be a Pumpkin Festival in Ladysmith, just a short drive from the Bowling Green Harvest Festival. We could easily hit both festivals in one afternoon. Now I wasn’t expecting anything approaching Keenesque proportions, but I was thrilled to be going somewhere where the jack o’lantern was king. This festival was held in the community of Ladysmith Village (one of those “traditional neighborhood developments” like Idlewild), and was part of a national fundraising campaign, sponsored by the Life is Good folks (those guys who are making a fortune selling stuff with their logo), to benefit local charities, in this case, Caroline County’s Habitat for Humanity. The festival was held on a big grassy field, and featured a few vendors and a bluegrass band, but the emphasis was clearly on the pumpkin carving. The organizers had a goal of carving and lighting 1,400 pumpkins (a drop in the Keene bucket...pumpkin chump change), but the festival wasn’t particularly well-attended (just a few hundred people), so I don’t know if they made the goal. The crew of young volunteers were certainly carving like crazy. This year, we didn’t stay into the evening for the pumpkin lighting, but it’s going to be an annual event, so we’ll get another chance next year.

The scaffolding that holds some of the finished pumpkins, with some of the pumpkins carved with letters to spell out the name of the event, and other messages. Apparently this is a key ingredient of pumpkin festivals:

The bluegrass band, Milford Station:

More carvers:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bowling Green Harvest Festival

Yes, we’re still hunting harvest festivals, and this weekend we went to two. Saturday was a beautiful day, so we took the ride in the country down to Bowling Green for the Harvest Festival, which turned out to be a surprisingly big event. It wasn’t very harvesty...other than a kids’ pumpkin decorating station, it could have been a street festival celebrating just about anything. At one end of the festival area, there was a huge classic car show, then we moved on to the antique tractors, then to the petting zoo (with the animals in depressingly and unnecessarily small enclosures), and at the end of the block, there were amusement park rides, carnival games, and a rock-climbing wall. In between were all of the vendors. I just never get tired of walking down rows and rows of vendors, even if they are hawking things I have absolutely no interest in. In fact, it’s almost always stuff I have no interest in, but I always have this great feeling of anticipation that the next vendor will be the one selling some amazing, beautifully crafted and surprisingly affordable something.

This being election season, every Caroline County candidate had a booth set up, so there were buttons and bumper stickers flying. Plus there were lots of churches selling crafts or yard sale stuff or running raffles, including one clever church giving out free cookies with a Bible verse and a church ad attached (doesn’t matter to cookies are free cookies). There was all the usual southern street festival food: the barbecue, the fried fish, the funnel cakes, and we managed to sample quite a bit before moving on to another pumpkin festival just a few minutes’ drive away (but more about that one tomorrow).

Kid-painted pumpkins:

An alpaca from the petting zoo:

This is honestly one of the ugliest "crafts" I've ever seen. They are lampshades, in case you couldn't tell:

Clearly it doesn't take much to amuse me, because I thought this pelican trash can was photo-worthy:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Beethoven's Fifth

Our usual Friday night football game was a rainout this weekend (okay, not really rained out, we just don't like to get wet), so instead, we went to the University of Mary Washington-Community Symphony Orchestra concert. The orchestra is a combination of college students and local musicians who put on a number of popular performances throughout the year. Last night we heard Anton Bruckner’s 4th Symphony (come on, you've never heard of that??) and the highlight, Beethoven’s Fifth. It was definitely a bit heavier than the Pops concert we usually hear this group perform. Kevin Bartram, the conductor, started out by introducing the first piece and emphasizing how LONG it was, making me wonder if my position trapped in the center of a long row wasn't a bad idea. Turns out it wasn’t all that long, although I admit I have a pretty short attention span when it comes to classical music, preferring the short, snappy pieces to the long, unfamiliar stuff. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was a lot more enjoyable, because I recognized two of the movements, and being familiar with the music really made it more entertaining for me. I like the greatest hits classical stuff. You know, the music you recognize from movies and commercials. The orchestra itself is a solid group of amateur musicians who do a fine job, although you’d never mistake them for a big city orchestra. Nonetheless, as always, they got the thunderous standing ovation. And you know how I feel about that.

This is the statue of George Washington in the foyer of Dodd Auditorium at the university named for Mary Washington, George's mother. Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't remember ever seeing a single image of Mary Washington anywhere on campus. I'm sure there is one somewhere, but what does the woman actually look like?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Quiet Day

Today was a perfect-weather day, and after work I went no further than the back deck with a book and a cup of decaf. Some days are just like that. So since this has been an uneventful week so far, I’ve dug into my photo archives and come up with a few photos I’ve been hanging onto for a quiet day just like this, all focusing on interesting patterns of color and texture I've come across in my outings.

The natural textures: mossy brick wall, gnarled bark of a tree, stone pavers, river pebbles, rushing water, wooden planks.

The colorful patterns: cherry tomatoes in the market, bolts of quilting fabric, skeins of yarn (these last two taken with my quilter/knitter mom in mind)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Love and Remembrance

On Sunday afternoon, I attended Mary Washington Hospice’s “Service of Love and Remembrance” at St. George’s Episcopal Church. Our church choir (where my husband sings tenor) was invited to perform, along with St. George’s choir, and I knew the music and service would be moving. The service is dedicated to the memory of hospice patients who have died over the course of the past year, and is an opportunity for their loved ones to come together to honor them. The words to the poetry and lyrics to the songs all spoke to the strength of love, even in death: You are not gone, you live within me, you’re here with me always, always a part of me. In a way, it seemed as if the whole service was intentionally designed to be sad, to give loved ones permission to grieve publicly. Americans are very squeamish about death and grief and mourning. After a few months, we want the bereaved to be back on their feet, getting on with life. We ask, “How are you doing?” but we want the answer to be, “I’m holding up, I’m hanging in there, I’m doing okay.” We certainly don’t want to see people falling apart, incapacitated by grief, unable to face the next day, because it frightens us to think we will be in the same situation someday and might be feeling those same things. So people who have lost a loved one learn to keep it inside when in public, to stifle the tears and give the pat answers. I think the purpose of this service was to give all of these people still deep in mourning just one time, one place, where it was still okay to be not okay.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fall Festivals

It finally feels like fall in Fredericksburg, after the daytime highs dropped about 20 degrees in one 24-hour period last week. Now we’re in that odd period where you might wake up to temperatures dipping into the 40’s, but highs that can creep back into the 80’s—days when you feel like you need heat in the morning and AC by the afternoon. The leaves are starting to turn (although this part of Virginia won’t hit its peak until November), and the weather today was crisp enough, at least in the morning, to need a sweater.

So it seemed like a good time to go hunting harvest festivals. You can find dozens of these, sponsored by churches and schools and small farms, all within a short drive during October and November in Virginia. For me, the perfect fall festival needs these ingredients: pumpkins, mums, apples and cider, jams and honey, hayrides, and crafts. A few farm animals or a little entertainment wouldn’t hurt, plus some hot spiced cider to sip, some bales of hay to sit on, and a picturesque setting to enjoy. Oh, and there should be no admission charge. Now I admit it’s hard to find all of this in one place. Belvedere Plantation has a “Fall Fest” that runs through October and November, with all of these ingredients, plus more. Lots of family activities and attractions, the area’s biggest “Maize Maze,” plus acres of pick-your-own pumpkins. But the $14 per person admission charge (plus extra for wagon rides, scarecrow-building, etc.) is just too much, especially for oldsters like us who aren’t taking advantage of all the kiddie activities, and the crowds and lines don’t help. The whole thing is just a bit too corporate for me...not exactly the sort of small-time local operation we like best.

So in search of something a bit more homegrown, we scanned the festival listings online, and wanting to stay close to home, checked out a couple of offerings in the area. Our first stop was a nearby church, which offered some baked goods, a few jams and preserves, tables of yard sale items, and a couple of games for the kids. “Festival” was definitely an overstatement. So we continued on to Clark’s Farm, a roadside plant nursery in Stafford County. This had a bit more to offer, with a couple of small mazes made out of fencing and haybales, perfect for little kids (not so good for anyone taller than about 4 feet). They had plenty of pumpkins and mums for sale, some jams and honeys, and a few pettable farm animals. I’m not that big on pets or wildlife, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for farm animals, having grown up in an area utterly devoid of them. This was a nice first taste of the fall festival season, but I’m still holding out for a hayride and a cup of hot cider.

Here's a baby pig from Clarks:

Who doesn't like a dried cornhusk donkey?

Sunflowers for sale:

An interesting array of pumpkins and gourds from the Farmer's Market:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

University of Mary Washington

Fredericksburg is not quite a college town, but we are a town with a college, the approx. 4,000-student University of Mary Washington. The presence of the campus in the center of town does provide a lot of nice opportunities for residents of the area, like me. Throughout the year, there are concerts, plays, speakers, and athletic events open to the public. We watch UMW baseball in the spring, check out the Multicultural Fair every April and the Operafest in the summer, and are always on the lookout for performances by the college-community orchestra or the jazz ensemble or the show choir. It's also a great place to just walk around, with its winding, shady pathways, spacious lawns, and a big fountain in the middle of campus.

The college is pretty quiet—no hotbed of unrest here. Well, except when the administration tried to change the name (and ultimately succeeded) from Mary Washington College. And also when the president was fired this April, after less than a year in the position, for being arrested for drunk driving two days.

Mary Washington has one of the most picturesque college campuses I’ve ever seen, and having done college tours with two kids, I’ve seen plenty. Some colleges look like a mish-mash of architectural styles (Wesleyan University, anyone?), but at M-Dub, most of the architecture is pretty classical (lots of red brick and columns). And it’s a great little college, too, so if you have a high schooler looking for a small school with a good academic reputation at a bargain price (well, as colleges go) in a nice town, with a pretty campus and a terrific faculty (including the current winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry), check out Mary Wash.

DuPont Hall, the home of Klein Theatre:

Monroe Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, and home to many of the social science departments:

The Campus Center:

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Oyster Festival

One of the highlights of our weekend at the beach was going to the 35th Annual Chincoteague Oyster Festival. Our friends were able to come up with mostly-free tickets to this seafood celebration. The Oyster Festival’s claim to fame is just one thing: eating seafood. Mainly oysters, of course. Other than a band that plays throughout the day, there are no other activities besides eating. No crafts, no vendors, no demonstrations, no exhibits about fishing or our precious water resources or displays about the charms of the island. Just eating. There are raw oysters on the half shell, steamed oysters, fried oysters and oyster fritters. For variety, there are crabs, clam fritters, clam chowder, hot dogs, hush puppies, and coleslaw. And all of it is all-you-can-eat, for the price of the admission ticket.

Now the catch is that most of the food is made fresh while you wait, and waiting is the main activity of the day, right up there with eating. I’d say it’s equal parts waiting, equal parts eating. It’s a little like being at an amusement park, waiting on line for the popular rides, except in this case, it’s the popular food. The real pros make a whole day of it, getting there early to nab a picnic table, setting up canopies and chairs, bringing in coolers of drinks, and making a tailgate-style party with friends and family.

Up until Saturday, I hadn't eaten enough oysters in my life to know whether I actually liked them. On Saturday, I ate them every which way but raw, and found them to be fairly uninteresting, unless they were deep fried (deep frying improves anything). I also ate lots of clam chowder (no lines on a warm day for hot soup), including this bowl, with the biggest clam I've ever encountered in soup.

Monday, October 8, 2007


We spent the long weekend at the vacation home of friends in Chincoteague, on the eastern shore of Virginia. If you’re not familiar with the geography of the state, Virginia has this odd little peninsula hanging off of Maryland, completely isolated from the rest of the state—from Fredericksburg, we have to drive north into Maryland, and then come down the shore back into Virginia (oh, to be able to drive as the crow flies). Chincoteague Island is a quaint seaside community of modest cottages, a historic downtown area, surrounded by bays and coves on all sides, and just across a narrow channel from the beautiful beach of the Assateague National Seashore on Assateague Island. Assateague is probably best known for its wild ponies, which you can see along the beach road, where even in the off season, visitors flock to take photos of the horses and the sea birds. As all of my friends know, I’m much more into flora than fauna, and don’t get very excited about animals in the wild, but a wide sandy beach gets me every time.

Assateague Island has 37 miles of protected beaches, without any shorefront development—a real contrast to all of the building going on along the beaches of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We had a surprisingly warm weekend, with shining sun, warm water, and mild waves...really a perfect beach weekend.

Here's a view of Main Street. All three of these houses have the center gable, which I'm told is an architectural feature distinctive to the historic homes of Chincoteague. Modern development is starting to encroach on the island, and we noticed more new developments of condos, townhouses, and oversized vacation homes, but vintage cottages built during the town's heyday as a fishing village still dominate.

In addition to its daily focus on water safety, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in Chincoteague provides help with the annual pony swim in July, when wild ponies are guided across the channel from the wildlife refuge to the town to be auctioned off, which keeps the pony population stable. Here's the station:

Curtis Merritt Harbor on the south end of the island, where small commercial fishing vessels and charter boats are docked.